Surfside collapse death toll rises to 64, with 76 still missing
Four more bodies have been discovered in Surfside since Thursday morning, bringing the death toll to 64, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava confirmed in an evening briefing.
She said another 76 people remain unaccounted for two weeks after the June 24 partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominiums. Detectives are working closely with crime scene and medical examiner personnel to identify victims and notify the next of kin as quickly as possible.
“Every victim that we recover is handled with extreme care and compassion,” Levine Cava said.
As of 5:45 p.m. Thursday, the mayor said 40 victims had been identified and 39 next of kin had been notified.
THURSDAY EVENING BRIEFING:
She said crews will be safeguarding personal items that are found, such as wallets and jewelry and electronics like tablets and cellphones. Families of the victims will be able to make reports about the items so they can claim them.
At their request, some family members had an opportunity to return to the collapse site on Thursday afternoon. They shared a moment of silence along with first responders who paused their work momentarily to honor the victims and their families.”
Some of those families are still holding onto hope.
“100%. Yeah, 100%,” Dr. Joshua Spiegel said when asked if he remained hopeful that his mother Judy could still be alive in the rubble. “Out of all the things that have happened in the last two weeks, we are still very hopeful we can still find my mom. That’s all we really want.”
Spiegel said that at first the family was discouraged by the shift to a recovery operation, but he has seen that the work hasn’t stopped.
“They needed to make that name change in order to do a few different things, like use bigger machinery in certain areas,” Spiegel said. “To hopefully speed up this process to find more people.”
Levine Cava said first responders held a moment of silence around 1:20 a.m. to mark two weeks since the devastating collapse.
About 9 million pounds of concrete have been removed so far, officials say.
The mayor said faith-based leaders have been embedded in the operation since the beginning, including rabbis and a faith-based organization to make sure that the remains of the Jewish victims are handled in a manner consistent with the Jewish faith.
“We have a tent designated on-site and when a Jewish body is discovered a prayer is performed and specific protocols are followed to honor both the faith-based traditions and the integrity of the investigation,” the mayor said.
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During a Thursday morning briefing for families of the victims, officials said the Israeli search-and-rescue team would be wrapping up their part of the mission and leaving on Sunday.
Families of the victims of the Surfside building collapse, along with first responders, neighbors and local officials, visited the memorial near the scene Wednesday night to comfort each other and pray after the search-and-rescue mission officially transitioned to a search-and-recovery mission.
The night prior, first responders stood side-by-side in silence to mark the painful reality that their mission had turned into a recovery one.
“Yesterday was tough,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday. “I appreciated what they did for doing the vigil, but the works gonna go on and they’re gonna identify every single person.”
Levine Cava said Wednesday that every option available had already been exhausted before crews transitioned to the recovery mission.
The mayor made the anticipated, yet still crushing announcement during a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
“It is with deep, profound sadness that this afternoon I’m able to share that we made the extremely difficult decision to transition from operation search-and-rescue to recovery,” she said. “To share this news with the families this evening who are still missing their loved ones was devastating.”
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the decision was made as those closest to the rescue efforts say the possibility of now finding someone still alive is near zero.
“Once we pull the victim out, what we’re recognizing is, you know, human remains,” one rescue official said.
Search-and-rescue teams say because the condominium building collapsed in what they call a “pancake effect,” it left them with slim chances of finding survivors from the start.
For the past two weeks, K9s trained to find survivors in the rubble never picked up a scent.
As of Thursday morning, 8 million pounds of concrete and debris have been removed from the collapse site.
Miami-Dade commissioners held a moment of silence during Thursday’s meeting to honor the victims.
Part of the discussion is measures that might need to be made to prevent another tragedy like Surfside in the county.
Levine Cava then presented a photo slideshow to commissioners to illustrate how the county responded to the deadly collapse.
She said county departments that are not traditionally accustomed to responding to emergencies stepped up to help in seamless coordination.
The Community Action & Human Services Department ran the family reunification center.
The Solid Waste Department transported forensic evidence from the collapse site to another location for analysis and the public library system brought books and loaner items to the victims’ families at the reunification center.
Officials say this is the largest emergency in Florida’s history other than a hurricane.
“Eleven seconds of devastation was all it took for a community to be shaken to its core — the kind of tragedy that tests us and shows us what we are truly made of,” the mayor said.
About $7 million have been raised to support the surviving victims and the families of those who died in the collapse.
HOW TO HELP: Here’s a list of resources to support those impacted by building collapseMore about the victims identifiedPhotos: Loved ones name those they say are missingPhotos: Search-and-rescue teams in actionHotline and wellness form for residents and families